When my Parents Visit

We played poker that week, we'd draw the cards and shuffle them around.  All the lives I used to live were buried in the compliments my parents gave me.  To show the growth I've gone through to get to the house I live in now, with all its struggle and timid mid-century beauty.  There was a distinction in how they talked to me, sometimes a whisper, sometimes cautiously.  We talked until our voices were hoarse, all about how much I've changed, grown, become something.

We played poker and it kept my attention all week long, the dexterity of conversation.  How we wouldn't dwell on any one subject for too long.  How anything anymore is too painful to bring up, too trivial.  It's easier to ask if the weather is always this nice and not ask if I'm happy that I moved back to San Diego.  Time was short and days ran long.  I've said it before, but time is just a trickster god.  A coyote yelping in the distance, telling me I wouldn't see them again for another six months. 

There's a thing in poker called a "tell".  When a player can't mask his intent.  When his subconscious twitches at the fingertips.  When a player touches his nose, rubs his ear, clears his throat in the silence.  I wonder what my tell was that week.  I keep turning this over in the silence before I fall asleep:  What was the hint I gave them all?  What did my body say that my tongue could not?  How well do my parents this person I've become to be able to pan through the fools gold of conversation for what they really were.  How to navigate the minutiae to find the nuance of my biting lip.

The truth was that it's been six days since my parents left and it's been hard to stay positive, to keep my mind off how much I miss them.  I think it read on my face, the truth is the tell was present in every movement, in every frown, in every smile I gave that stretch across my face whenever I caught my mom looking at me.

My parents left six days ago, but I cherished it all.  Every moment, every heartbeat, every eyelash my mother would pick off my cheek and blow into the wind.  I'm more like my mother than I ever thought possible, in our temper and our careful approach to love.  I think about how much I've hated her before and I can't seem to find the reason for all of that anger.  My father sat at the tail end of conversation.  He's a good man, silent and awkward.  My parents left six days ago and that happiness couldn't have lasted forever. 

Our life out here is so different than my parents, I had to preface everything i showed them. "We don't normally go here." "We don't normally spend this much." "We usually just sit at home."  I couldn't lose that connection, to remain down in the salt of the earth with them.  I'd be buried in it, if I could.  Preserved, cured.  Perhaps in more ways than one.

We got seasick on a boat ride around the bay I arranged for Father's Day, they ate In 'n Out for the first time.  We drank milkshakes and kept our eyes on the horizon.  We ate at a Chinese restaurant where our waitress spoke Spanish with no accent and English with a heavy one.  We sat on the edge of the world and watched the water crash on an outcrop of houses in La Jolla.  We ate leftovers in our swim suits.  My mother made coffee too weak; she got frustrated that the coffee pot wasn't like hers.  My parents napped with our dog, Elsa, and then my dad slept for 12 more hours.  We got tattoos to commemorate my continual, chronic years of not appreciating my mother's love.  We hugged at the airport and my mother whispered in my ear at the terminal, "I don't know how much longer I can do this."

We drove home in silence.  Her words still are ringing in my ear.

My parents bought a house in North Carolina, surrounded by forests in a town that only has a pizza place and a Dollar General.  My parents called it a homestead.  It'll be willed to me and my siblings.  My mother is decorating it in greens and blues, colors of the ocean.  My mother is going to get another rescue dog.  She's decided on a lab.  A boy.  My dad wants to quit his job in ten years' time.  They have plans, lives I only intersect at the periphery.  They miss me in their own way, and I, myself, don't know how much longer I can do this.

Back Home.

In three days I packed up my life in San Antonio and moved back in with Nolan in California.  The West Coast has some magnetic pull on me, the way water always run down to the deepest crack in the tile.  The way the black mould builds around it, the deep doubts that went into my decision to ever leave my home in San Diego.  

In three days, we tore down the home I had built for myself, broke book shelves into splinters.  Unhooked pictures I had hung to hide holes I had punched into the wall.  I lost a set of keys and found them in an old shoe.  I tucked my passport in a folder with pictures of my mother.  Things I valued made their way into suit cases, things I could replace found their way into trash bags that were advertised to hold 40 gallons of dead grass, debris, springtime detritus.  Everything I owned could fit in my Nissan and we stopped by coffeeshops to say goodbye to the friends I had made.  We promised to be different in our return, I'm holding onto that promise.

I am iron-fisted and yellow-bellied.  I didn't want to make it on my own anymore.  I didn't want to have my pride in the way of a life shared with someone.  The bravest thing to do is to love someone, the hardest thing I've ever done was drop Nolan off at the airport and wave goodbye, smiling.  In three days, I quit my job and left the Hill Country I tried so hard to romanticize.  I'll miss the white-walled sanctuary of a creative space to call my own.  I'll miss the train that screamed its presence like a mockingbird.  I'll miss the way the asphalt smelled in the post-rain break in the humidity.  I'll miss a lot of things, but I'm a different person now.

I'm older now.  Six months can do that to a person.  

We left when we wanted to and hit El Paso by dusk.  We chased elements along the way.  We hit fog in some mountain range that I couldn't tell you the name of.  Everything I had and loved was in that car, I didn't want to lose it all to the fog and my lack of depth perception.  In the gossamer veil that covered the mountaintops.  Deadly, smokey.  Miscarried clouds that threatened me, I woke up Nolan from his nap and had him drive through it.  He was confident, comfortable.  I know I can't do some things on my own, and that solidified why I made the decision to go back.  His calming presence, his reliability.  His ability to save me when I'm white-knuckled and shaggy-breathed.

We chased the rain, too.  Big puddles.  Giant puddles.  We hit them on the way to his sister's house.  We saw Las Cruces in the distance and passed signs that advertised authentic Native American goods.  We saw Las Cruces in the distance, we took an exit that advertised a new Wendy's opening.

The two days' drive out to California was punctuated like that.  Element diverting.  Pointing to distant towns, they had words like Halcyon and Sunshine in their names.  They promised things, artifacts of the manifest destiny that led the founders on their journey.  They had probably never felt a sun so hot.  It all felt like hell sooner or later and a lot less like paradise.  And up close in those small roadside towns, we saw boarded up windows, dogs on chains, billboards to buy 2,000 acres of land for $13,000.  We stopped at a gas station where the coffee pot had been on so long the remaining brew was scorched and sticking to the pot.  We stopped at another where the bathroom was to the side of the building and didn't have any soap.  We got some spiced gum drops, the kind our grandmothers used to eat, and some cold ginger ale and left soon after in a dust cloud.  We continued on out west and never shook anyone's hand along the way.

The car rides were silent sometimes, we held hands sometimes.  Milo came along, too.  We took turns holding him, we took turns napping.  We took turns paying for gas or food or the odd scratch-off to break up the monotony of one road and a thousand miles ahead of us.  We didn't eat well those few days, we slept even less.  We never talked about the future, because the future was right in front of us on the I-10, merged with us onto the I-8.  And when I could taste salt in my mouth, I didn't know if it was from tears, sweat, or my imagination running wild at the thought of the ocean.  

The desert can play tricks on you sometimes like that, but I beat the coyote at his own game.  I left Texas, left the desert, left the southwest altogether.  You can find me in San Diego now, at coffeeshops and Chinese restaurants, having the life I was supposed to when I moved into this house for the first time a year ago.

Homemade Ginger Ale and Spiced Orange Peel Candies

Inspired by our road trip snack choices, a refreshing ginger ale and spiced orange peels.  Pair with a scratch-off and you're all set for your next road trip.

For the Ginger Ale


  • 1 piece ginger, 6-8 inches by 2-4 inches (hard t gauge, but the more you put in, the more gingery it will taste), peeled* and cut into small rounds a quarter-inch thick
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Squeeze of orange slice
  • 1 liter tonic water (pref. Schweppes) 



  1. In a medium saucepan, combine water and sugar.  Over medium-high heat stir until sugar is dissolved. 
  2. Add ginger slices and bring mixture to a boil
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5-7 minutes.  Watch so sugar does not caramelize.
  4. Turn heat off.  Mixture should be syrupy and fragrant.  Add a pinch of salt squirt of orange juice.
  5. Put lid on saucepan and allow to steep for 30 minutes to 1 hour
  6. To assemble drink:  
    1. For an individual drink:  Pour ginger syrup in a glass about a quarter way full, top with tonic water, then with ice
    2. For a whole bottle:  Use a decanter (for immediate use) or a hermetic bottle for later use (recommend within half an hour).  Add all of the syrup and top with tonic water slowly with a funnel. Chill in refrigerator. Enjoy with the spiced orange peels.

Spiced Orange Peels


  • Peel of one orange, cut into strips
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin
  • pinch of black pepper



  1. In a pot of boiling water, simmer orange peel strips for 15 minutes.  Drain water and rinse with cold water.  Rinse again. Set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine water and sugar and heat on medium-high until sugar is dissolved and begins to boil (watch again carefully for caramelization).
  3. Lower heat to medium-low and add peels and simmer for 15-20 minutes until tender and gummy.
  4. Put on a baking sheet with a paper towel underneath to drain some of excess syrup off.
  5. While peels drain, mix remaining ingredients on a shallow plate with a fork.  Lay down parchment paper.
  6. Dip peels in sugar mixture with fork or fingers and dip on both sides.  Lay on parchment paper to dry 8-12 hours or until dried.

A Relationship like Lazarus and some Blood Orange-Rosemary Soda

I went to California for the week.  I bit my nails down to the quick. I started chewing Nicorette gum and I wore sunglasses to the point where my eyes couldn't adjust to being indoors.  I was a different person then. I'm a weed that grew past its season. Overgrown, lush.  The kind where you want to call it a forest, but it's too manic and frenzied in its excitement to bloom, it has no elegance to it.  I'm a hybrid of eagerness and stagnation, I am preserved in the dust motes of lazy Sundays where I am allowed to be by myself.  Alone.  Blissful in that time apart, I took root and began to create.  I bit my nails because I was nervous, nervous I would love it all.  

I stopped by the convenience shop at gate G in the airport and got myself a pack of gum and some magazines.  I tried to pretend I wasn't sweating, that my stomach didn't twist into braids of butterfly cocoons and that self-doubt of What if it's really over now?

It was my first time back in three months, to a town I never loved and in a house that never has enough light for me.  An antique rug and an outdoor kitchen, I had a different life when I moved into that house last October.  I even had a different life in December, when the wool was pulled from my eyes and I saw how crowded the shadows from the window blinds felt.  It was 65 degrees that winter and I had to excuse myself from our Christmas dinner at a restaurant in the heart of Balboa; I was sweating so much and I felt like I couldn't breathe. 

So I left.  And I returned three months later, with a five o'clock shadow and more forgiveness than I thought possible.

And when I came back, it felt wholesome and kind.  I cried until my nose bled when the dogs licked me until their tongues were dry.  I sat over the sink and tried to stop the bleeding, refusing to tilt my head back and meet Nolan's eyes.  To have him see me so weak.  I wanted to come back strong and instead I was bleeding.  We fell asleep at two that night, talking about where we went from there.  I was sandwiched between a collie and a coyote.  I fell asleep with the same howl of her forlorn call in my heart, hoping to be heard, saying, "I'm still here waiting."

For a week, I appreciated San Diego for the paradise it can be.  Picnics.  Whole foods deli section.  The beach.  Palm trees, windless nights, airplanes you mistook as shooting stars.  A Subway you ate at after some surgery or another.  Old friends, old coworkers.  A smoky gay bar that serves $2 well drinks at noon.  Curves, cracked sidewalks and a gym you used to have a membership at. We bought hand-braided bracelets and wore them on our ankles, promising to never take them off. "I like mine more than I thought I would." A pound of chicken that sat defrosting in the fridge for a week, useless because we ate out every day.  $5 kombucha on tap.  We went to the post office three times--once to mail my mom's birthday present, once to return an unwanted gift, and once to mail out postcards.

I wish you could be here!  I'm always thinking of you.

Nolan has small birthmarks that tan a little bit darker than the rest of his skin.  Small splotches that I could probably make a Rorschach analogy to and it wouldn't seem that contrived.  The whites of the insides of his fingers fit, curved, linked into mine.  And if there is a God, his design was so perfect, to craft our hands together in this way.  

It was good to come back to a home that missed me, where I could tell life went on without me.  It was comforting to know that the world didn't revolve around me.  That I had grown up in the last three months and I wouldn't allow myself to be as capricious as I chose to be before.  It was organic.  It was natural.  It was healthy for me to go back.

Organic.  Healthy.  Natural.  Words that inspired me this week to make a lighter fare.  My dad told me once he wants to see the sun set on every beach in the world.  I thought about that as my groggy eyes adjusted to waking up in the small beach tent one afternoon.  I saw red before I saw blue.  I was thirsty and I thought how good the small bubbles of carbonation would feel on my dry throat in that hot, hot sun.  I made some blood orange soda when I got home from my trip.  I added some rosemary to stay healthy, steeping it, pulling the magic from its veins.  I'll drink this batch the rest of the week and think of my time in California often.  Back to the beaches, back to my dogs, and back to my relationship--however small a miracle to come back from the dead like it has.

Blood Orange-Rosemary Soda

I found those bottles at Michael's.  Very tempted to bottle and sell to Press.


  • 1 1/2 cup fresh blood orange juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 24 oz club soda


  • In a small saucepan, combine juice and sugar and heat on medium-high, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved.  
  • Allow to simmer until juice is reduced by half and is thick and syrupy
  • Allow to cool, then funnel into at least a 30 oz container
  • Fill remainder of container/bottle with club soda
  • Add rosemary
  • Refrigerate for at least half an hour
  • Enjoy, garnish with additional rosemary or with blood orange
  • Enjoy

Christmas Eve.

Peppermint and Eggnog Whoopie Pie The anticipation used to kill me, trick me, tease me.  Christmas break would start on a day before Christmas Eve and last all the way through to January 3rd.  I would cry when I didn't get what I wanted, I would cry when I had to go back to school.  I would eat turkey and ham and lasagna and seven different types of fish with my family.  We would play cards, pretend to like each other.  It was tradition and now I realize how ephemeral it really was.  How days moved like molasses, and then quick like warmed syrup.  From a small flurry to a blizzard, we wrapped ourselves in fleece blankets and wondered how the cold got into our old, old house and made our bones feel just as old.

That's what I remember about Christmas and I used to envy how others described it as magical, mystical, something worth looking forward to.  All those years, it seemed like a chore and how greedy I was to ask for more, to count the dollar value or my gifts compared to my siblings'.  How sad it all seemed the next day, anticlimactic and messy.  I always wanted more, but I could never articulate what I wanted the most.  I think all I wanted was to feel loved, held, a part of a larger family than the small nucleus that was mom, dad, brother, sister.

Lately I've been feeling nostalgic and hungry, grateful and like I lost something and can't remember where I put it.  These feelings don't often hit me in such full force.  Going home last week to Pennsylvania (more on that later) brought something out of me that I didn't know was in me:  the power to create magic.  The ability to create peaceful, loving memories with my mother.  Instead of remaining bitter, remembering how a week before Christmas in 2010 I got tested for HIV and then threw a fit when I didn't get the new iPhone, I could laugh with my mom and hug my dad tight.  I was invited to spend the night at my sister's first place, I called my brother and congratulated him on his new house.  I was creating, making, forging, and shaping a future with my small nucleus to last longer than the one day a year we forced upon ourselves for tradition's sake.  And that's what Christmas is about, that is what my parents wanted all along.  And I want to return that favor to all of you.  Bake this cake, forge those memories, make someone smile and discover that all you needed was there all along.  It's one part Christmas and two parts mountain dessert, Appalachian baking.  A moon pie, a whoopee pie.  Whatever you call it, it's a survivalist attempt at decadence.  It's delicious and light, moist and dense.  A mile-high contradiction where you can splurge a little, if it helps you remember your care-and-calorie-free childhood a little easier.

I received a lot of presents this year -- marble and ceramics, wood and paper -- but the best gift I could receive was knowing that I'm loved by someone, and I can return that love to anyone who will let me.

moon pie 2

Peppermint and Eggnog Whoopie Pie


  • 1 2/3 cup eggnog, divided
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (mix it up with smoked salt)
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso mix
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cups cocoa powder
  • 4 oz butter, softened
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1 teaspoon gelatin, bloomed in cold water
  • 2 candy canes


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare two 9" cake pans with butter and parchment paper
  2. In a mixing bowl or measuring cup, whisk all wet ingredients (1 cup of the eggnog) together and set aside
  3. Sift together soda, salt, espresso, flour, and cocoa in a large mixing bowl and create a well in the middle
  4. Slowly begin combining wet and dry ingredients, mixing with a rubber spatula to scrape all sides
  5. For an added level of smoothness, pour wet ingredients through a sieve and scrape sides with spatula into a clean mixing bowl
  6. Divide batter between two cake pans
  7. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean
  8. Allow to cool
  9. While cake is cooling, prepare the icing.
  10. In a small bowl, combine 1 teaspoon of gelatin with a tablespoon of cold water and set aside while gelatin blooms
  11. In a large mixing bowl, use a mixer to combine butter, confectioner's sugar, cream cheese, until combined.  Whip in the remaining eggnog and vanilla.  Add a pinch of salt, if desired
  12. When gelatin has stiffened, put in microwave for 15 seconds or until melted and whip into icing mixture
  13. Allow to set for 15-20 minutes
  14. When cake is completely cooled and icing is set with the gelatin, you can assemble the cake
  15. Put one cake onto the plate, then scoop and smooth icing using a wet icing spatula or butter knife.  Of course, this can be messy, so don't stress too much
  16. Top with remaining cake
  17. Pulse candy canes in a food processor until a fine dust
  18. Brush VERY lightly with water on cake to allow peppermint to stick
  19. Pour peppermint crumbs onto cake to taste's desire
  20. Enjoy with your family!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

We have brioche at dawn.

This all happened before I left for Pennsylvania, before I was reminded of the as it was.  Of the constant state of charm and chaos that exists when you visit a family home.  The kind that you can recognize the tired floorboards, the kind that are imprinted with your dad's shape on the couch.  All the good memories flood back and haunt you like a contorted zoetrope, and you're never really sure if you're dreaming or awake. I made these rolls with no intention of making these rolls, with no intention of being up until one in the morning, making sure I had turned the oven light off.  Intention wasn't the cause, but the end goal of having these with ham and jelly kept me going.  The soft pillows were enveloped in a hard crunch and I could taste them before I could smell them.  I knew they were special and simple and delicious.  I knew I wanted them to be impressive, I knew it before I ever intended on making them.

I have always felt that the grey morning light is terrifying.  One of the first poems I wrote, read out loud in the back of my parents' '98 Nissan Pathfinder, was about how I wanted to die when that grey light extended to my southward-facing bedroom window.  That was in Pennsylvania, when the whole month of December is one grey streak on virgin snow.  Out here in California, it can taunt you for two hours and be gone by the time you pull into work.  It's different here, but still frightening.

I've never been one for armor, but you can't hide from the ambient greyness.  Instead, you have to confront it.  Distract yourself from it.  Make it feel invited in a way that it can't smell the sick in you.  I distract myself from it, too.  I serve myself a beautiful breakfast when I realize how much I hate this kind of season, this kind of light.  The mild distortion of ephemera that only comes between the hours of five and seven in the morning.  And that can all be abated for a moment or two.  At the calm of the table, with the coffee pot scorching on the burner.  The small hiss of everyday life while the man you once loved and will love again sleeps in the next room, never aware that you only made the breakfast so you didn't think about your own mortality.  How you, too, could be gone by the time you pull into work.  And after that you would do the dishes, and after that you would take a shower, and after that you would get a towel and sit on the bathroom floor trying to stay warm.  The ritual of these brioche buns meant I was distracted, meant I didn't have to, for one moment, think about how suffocating mornings can be, when all you have is yourself.

Morning Brioche Buns


Ingredients: (this is for six buns, but I had doubled the recipe to share at work, as seen in photos below)

  • 8 TB milk, slightly warmed on stovetop or in microwave
  • 1/2 sachet of active dry yeast
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in pieces, room temperature
  • 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar or honey
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked (1 tablespoon of eggs for washing), room temperature
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt 
  • 2 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt (such as La Jolla Salt Co.)


  1. In a bowl, activate the yeast in the warmed milk until beginning to bloom and bubbles appear
  2. Cream butter and sugar (or honey) until light and fluffy with mixer
  3. Add eggs and continue to blend gently until combined
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together flour and salt for lighter, airier dry ingredients
  5. Gradually add these to the wet mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until crumbly
  6. Pour in yeast mixture and stir until all ingredients are wet
  7. Oil or flour hands gently and turn onto a lightly-floured board.  Knead by hand until gluten and yeast begin to activate.  The dough will become springy and malleable in about 5-7 minutes
  8. Put in an oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel for about two hours, or until doubled in size
  9. Put back onto floured board and cut into six equal buns.  Roll and shape into rounds, place on parchment-lined baking sheet for another hour and a half to inflate again and become puffy.  During this proofing period, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  10. When the oven is preheated and rolls are puffy, you can either keep them on the baking sheets or place them in a skillet or other oven-proof bakeware for a visually-stunning breakfast.  Either way, they taste great.
  11. Gently brush all balls of dough with reserved tablespoon of egg and lightly salt with flaked seasalt.
  12. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden
  13. Allow to cool and serve as immediate as possible.  Put in airtight container for morning.
  14. Note:  I found that, with all brioche, these dry out really quickly.  To reconstitute them a little, place in a microwave with a damp paper towel for about 10-15 seconds.  The steam should help to soften them up a bit.
  15. Serve with jam, butter, or some honey-baked ham I'm sure we all have received in a Pepperidge Farms box from a relative or two this time of year.

brioche1 brioche3

And one more thing...

I want to give a special shout out to La Jolla Salt Co. for their great deal on this denim apron I purchased in support of small businesses in my area.  I was lucky enough to have a little bit of their salt for this recipe and I can say it gave it the perfect amount of balance and crunch the brioche needed.  Baking gets pretty messy and I've finally graduated from using old flannel shirts to a full-blown profesh apron now!